RAMBLING TOWARD SUNDAY
This week's preaching from Judges takes the downward turn we've been expecting from the beginning of the book. Last week's narrative of Gideon left possibilities open; Gideon's turn toward idolatry at the end of his career could have been nothing more than a temporary setback. But this week we're looking at his son, Abimelech, and there's nothing good to say about him.
His very name suggests that there is trouble afoot. "Abimelech" can be translated as "my father, the king." But Gideon refused to be called king. So Abimelech's name suggests that he is trying to legitimize his own claim to power by piggybacking on his dad, but without true foundation. He's the son of a concubine who lives at Shechem, making his position within the family a bit dubious. And the first thing he does is have his brothers killed - all seventy of them! One escapes, named Jothan. He won't go away quietly. In fact he knows a great deal about the reality of the situation, which he outlines in a parable.
It's significant that Abimelech seized power for himself; The narrative does not follow the established pattern here. The people of Israel do indeed "do evil in the sight of the Lord" after the death of Gideon, and a leader arises, but not by God's doing. There is no spiritual anointing for Abimelech. His entire career is marked by violence. In the end he will destroy Shechem, the very people who had accepted him at the beginning of his reign; the city will be razed, the inhabitants all killed and the land sowed with salt.
Filled with his success at Shechem, Abimelech moved on to Thebez, with the intent of doing the same thing there. In terms of the strengths of the cities, if Shechem were comparable to Chicago, Thebez would be comparable to Oquawka. It should have been an easy victory. But "a certain woman" threw a millstone down from the tower, and it crushed Abimelech's skull. True to form, he didn't want it to be said that a woman had killed him, so he had his armorbearer thrust a sword through him. The story ends: "Thus God repaid Abimelech for the crime he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers."
That has to be the preaching point in the story. Otherwise it's just a story about a wicked king and the people who were stupid enough to make him king. The people figure into the story too - that's part of what Jotham's parable is about - but the hero of the story is God, of course. God working through events that appear to have no connection to God whatsoever. Just when you think God isn't paying attention.